How does it feel to think that you will live in your current house for the rest of your life? Reassuring? Scary? Boring? Exciting? One of the vows that Benedictine monks and nuns make is that of stability which means that the Brother who talked to us fully expected to die at the monastery. The vow of stability is a vow to the community that they will be part of that community for life, it means that there is nowhere to go when life gets tough and you have to work through the frustrations and issues that there are always are in community life. It sometimes feels that it is too easy today for us to walk away and find a new church, for example, to be part of, but we take our baggage with us and sometimes the same issues arise. (In no way am I saying that being drawn to stability means that it is right to stay in abusive contexts and obedience to God has sometimes sadly been used as a reason to encourage people to do that).
As I continue to reflect on the retreat stability is something that God talked to me about. It is something I can find hard, we live and work in a very mobile society and sometimes when I meet someone who I have not seen for a while and they ask what I am doing now it almost feels like I am a little dull in that I am doing the work that started when I joined YFC in 1984. Sadly short termism in funding in youth work and other areas means that the long term youth worker is a rarity. I also sometimes worry that I am not listening to God and should move on in my work but God spoke to me again on the retreat about stability and the importance of that dimension of my call.
In a world where portfolio work is the norm and people may have several careers over their lifetime I can feel like I am stuck in the past but I think that there are merits in being part of a community for the long haul. Quite a few youth workers have told me that it was only after ten years that they really felt accepted in the community and able to do some of the deeper work they had been wanting to particularly with families. We perhaps need to find new ways of sustaining ministry so that people can stay for the long term and look at different models of and approaches to funding.
My post on Wednesday was on my placement at Mill Grove and the attraction of stability I think was part of the reason I wanted to go there – that one family have run such a home for over a hundred years is both inspirational and challenging. However, there must be churches where generations of one family have worshipped and where there are at least remnants of people who remember those who used to be there if they should return. My mother and her two sisters still live within walking distance of where they were born and raised. I am the eldest of six cousins, and our generation were the first in our families to experience higher education and only one returned “home” afterwards. If Twitter and Facebook had been around when I was at school I would probably still be connected to many parts of my past but I am not. I miss the rootedness that others seem to feel who have lived in an area for a long time, we are in the fifth house of our marriage, all in different areas. I appreciate that in a more networked mobile world that physicality is not the only way that we can have community but I still inhabit a physical body and sometimes I need an actual person to be with me, there are some things that cannot be accomplished in a tweet (and I am someone that likes Twitter).
The Mill Grove newsletter for 2011 contains this statement which I find challenging: “Perhaps the greatest promise that Jesus made to his disciples was that he would be with them always. And Mill Grove remains, come what may, ready to celebrate the many blessings of our big family, and provide a shelter in the times of the storm.” My vision for church is for that to be the case there too but it is much more likely to happen if there are people there who have committed themselves to that community for the long term and share and inhabit the story.
White, K. J. Links. (South Woodford: Mill Grove, 2011) p.1.